The Sports Desk – Early Impressions Of MLB The Show 18
MLB The Show 18 comes out tomorrow on PS4, but it's been playable since Friday of last week if you pre-ordered the title. Reiner is currently reviewing the game, and that will be on the site as soon as he's done. In the meantime, I chatted with him to get his first impressions.
Kato: So another year for MLB, and ... more online problems. As of this afternoon, people are losing their progress after they finish games, purchases are being lost – it's another mess!
Reiner: The original idea for this week's Sports Desk was to give a video tour of MLB 18 The Show. Seconds after we booted up our game for this video, Sony took the servers down. We could have shown off Road to the Show and Franchise mode, but none of the online content (including everything tucked into Diamond Dynasty) can be viewed. They say they are conducting "server maintenance" right now, but the problems people have logged at Reddit speak to a much larger issue [Ed. – The game was back online after this article was written.].
K: Developer San Diego Studio said that it was working on this year's online tech to prevent this stuff from happening, but at least for those of you who pre-ordered the title and have been playing it up to this point are experiencing the same problems as previous years. I don't even want to think about what the game might be like when it comes out for the general public tomorrow...
R: I hope today's update is a safeguard for that, but I question Sony conducting server maintenance midday. People lost progress. I hope all of my cards and victories are logged. I'd hate to take on the Yankees again, which is one of the missions I need to complete to get a pack of cards.
K: Moving on to more iffy news – MLB 18 has dropped both the Season and Online Franchise modes this year. Is that a negative for you?
R: I didn't spend much time in either of those modes. I understand why Sony dropped Online Franchise. The intent was to create a more stable online experience, and that meant a huge piece of the content needed to be dropped for a year. I do not see any logical reason why Season mode would disappear. Yes, you can play one season in Franchise mode, but it isn't quite the same thing. People would play Season mode since the number of games could be adjusted.
K: So while the world waits for Diamond Dynasty to come back online, you've been playing lots of Road to the Show. Which archetype did you choose, and what are your thoughts on how your player is progressing?
R: I'm currently juggling two Road to the Show players. I have a finesse pitcher in the Phillies organization who I modeled after the Cubs' Kyle Hendricks. My other player is your typical power-hitting first baseman. He was drafted by the Rays. The big change to this mode this year is I'm not accumulating experience points to max out abilities at 99. That path is gone. No Road to the Show player can be 99 in everything. That doesn't mean you won't get better as you play. Gains are now delivered in small increments while performing well on the field. They are immediately applied to your player (it's all hands off now). During off days, you can also train to raise your potential in a particular field. It's a slower process, and one that makes me feel more like a minor league player, but I think I like that I don't feel out of place after just a handful of games. I'm a true AAer at this point.
K: Yeah, I chose the Mr. Reliable type, which can play a variety of infield positions. I did it not only for that, but because the max caps (which can be further topped through equipment) are decent across the board. They aren't 99 in many areas, but I also didn't feel like I'd be capped really low, either. So far it feels like I'm making some progress every game, even if I don't have a great outing. I've seen some times when I get positive feedback even when I do something that's not so great, like getting Contact points when I reach base through an error, but overall the game doles out the points pretty fairly. I'm very curious how it's going to feel once you start to butt up against the current and max caps.
R: I also want to know how long it will take me to reach AAA. I usually get there in a couple of months, and it always felt like my coach was holding me back. I'm not against playing a full season in AA and another in AAA before reaching the show – if that's the arc they are looking for – but I hope I get the call-up based on my performance, not predetermined points in the season that don't register my gains.
K: That kind of stilted progress was notable in last year's RTTS mode, and frankly, this year's mode doesn't seem that different in how your coaches relate to you and how your actions don't seem to have a big effect on what goes on in the clubhouse. Did you find that as well?
R: I still have to experiment with the "choice" that is implemented into the story moments, but from what I can tell right now, I believe there is a "right" answer that gives your player a bump. Again, I need to check this out more to truly understand how it's different, but if it is following a similar arc, I could likely hit 80 home runs by summer in AA and not get the call to AAA. I hope that's not the case.
K: Sony has been touting some of the "user-friendly" ways to approach Franchise mode this year. What was your favorite way to use these to play the mode?
R: First off, the new menu interface is incredibly slick. Everything you need is right there in front of you. Everything is broken up into what Sony calls "phases," which allow you to quickly dive into any aspect of the mode, and also keep them in order, such as the tasks required in each. You also don't have to jump into the options to turn a system from manual to auto. Just tap the Square button on managerial category and you'll see it switch to the preference you want. My first time through Franchise mode was strictly a simulation, but I quickly found myself engaged by the situations that would arise during the sim – such as being asked if I wanted to take a few hacks in the bottom of the ninth to try to win a game or see if I could hit a milestone with a player. This is nothing new for the series, per se, but the way it's presented this year is great. The speed from Franchise dash to game is also faster. We'll have to see how the trade logic and all of that is, but I'm digging the balance of managing and playing in Franchise. You can even play a game in Retro mode if you want, which may throw off your stats a bit, but is a nice diversion from time to time.
K: Despite the problems the game is currently having with online, from what I've played this past weekend – including some online matches – I've been impressed with the gameplay in general. I've had a couple problems making catches at the wall, but other than that, the fielding has been smooth and the animations I've seen were what I expected from my players in that situation.
R: Iterate. Iterate. Iterate. Sony has done a phenomenal job of building upon the gameplay base each year, and this season's game is no exception. The fielding is tighter. Ball physics hold even more realism. New camera angles and TV presentations frame this great play in different ways. It's a hell of a game. It may not do much "new" on the field, but it really doesn't have to. I was blown away when Aaron Judge checked his swing, but still made contact. It was one of those awkward moments that happens in real games, and it was captured beautifully here. It's something most people will likely never see, but that's how far along Sony is in building upon its base. The little touches are everywhere, and they go a long way to making this game better.
K: I'm a more casual player at this point, and one of the gameplay aspects I really like is the new swing feedback meter. I think it really gives a better sense of exactly what "early" or "late" means in the context of your last swing, what the pitch was, and where it was on the plate. I know Sony tweaked the PCI, and so far, some people are having a harder time batting and getting the hits they may expect, but in general I'd say that all sports games seem to take a little time getting used to from year to year even if you're a hardcore player.
R: Balancing player tendencies is a difficult thing. Some people go up there swinging at everything. Others look for their pitch. I think the game caters to both crowds, but you need to tweak the game sliders and settings to find the sweet spot. You don't necessarily have that luxury in Diamond Dynasty's various modes. Everything is set to predetermined difficulties and parameters. I'll likely spend most of my time online this year, trying to unlock legends for my team (the Burnsville Bats).
K: Well, I know you have lots more to get to before your review is done, so I'll leave you to it, and hopefully the wider launch of the game goes off without a hitch. Fingers extra crossed....
R: Maybe the early release for people who pre-ordered isn't the best idea. Figure out your damn stability before getting it into people's hands. One last gripe: What in the hell is up with hats and jerseys in the packs of cards? What am I supposed to do with a Baltimore Orioles hat? Seriously....
K: Well, you can't wear them even if you'd wanted to. Looks like you'll have to funnel them all into your programs and/or hit the marketplace...
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A quick rundown of some of the sports news from the week
Check Out Reiner Playing R.B.I. Baseball 18
MX vs. ATV All Out Multiplayer Trailer
The game comes out tomorrow, March 27, but you can play now if you've pre-ordered the title.